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Current Projects

Please contact me for information or collaboration.

Host vs symbiont source of oxidative stress.
Exaiptasia and Galaxea.

What makes a coral "super"? Challenging the oxidative theory of coral bleaching


  with Prof David Suggett, KAUST

          AProf Ed Chouchani, Harvard University

          Dr Phil Cleves, Carnegie Institution for Science

Two PhD positions at VUW are available! 

Please contact me with CV if interested!


Coral reefs worldwide are increasingly threatened by mass coral bleaching events, but our understanding of bleaching at the cellular level is limited. This knowledge gap puts reefs and reef-dependent communities at risk. The scientific and popular press have celebrated the potential of ‘supercorals’, i.e., thermally-resistant corals that might be the salvation of reefs; however, it remains unclear what changes are needed to make a coral ‘super’. Using the latest proteomic technologies, we will track the progression of protein oxidation in the coral–algal symbiosis during thermal stress. We will use the models Exaiptasia (a) and Galaxea (b) to 1) identify the precise proteins and pathways affected by ROS, host or algal, at the earliest stages of the bleaching cascade, 2) quantify the relative ROS contributions of the host and symbiont, and 3) distinguish uncontrolled oxidative stress from redox signalling or redox regulation of specific bleaching pathways. We will identify conserved genes involved in bleaching and validate their roles using CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing, and therefore test the feasibility of assisted evolution (artificial selection or genetic modification) to improve coral thermal resilience.

Supported by the Marsden Fund of the Royal Society Te Apārangi.


Inter-kingdom communication in the coral-algal symbiosis and the adaptation of coral reefs to climate change

     Prof Simon Davy, Victoria University of Wellington

     Prof Arthur Grossman, Carnegie Institution of Science

     Prof David Suggett, KAUST

     Prof Virginia Weis, Oregon State University

Fluorescent imaging of the symbiosome membrane.

Coral reefs may not survive this century, in large part due to bleaching, where corals lose their symbiotic algae in response to warming. However, corals may be able to establish symbioses with more thermally-resistant algae. For this to happen, corals and potential algal symbionts must communicate with each other to form an integrated, functional unit, yet we know little about the molecular signals involved. We are focusing on three classes of signal molecules - eicosanoids, inositols and volatiles - that play significant roles as ‘building blocks’ of cellular language across biological systems. We are measuring the presence and cellular location of these signal molecules to understand their roles in the successful establishment of the symbiosis. By employing a suite of powerful ‘omics’ technologies, including genomics, proteomics, metabolomics and volatilomics, we will unravel the complexities of this inter-kingdom communication.

Supported by the Marsden Fund of the Royal Society Te Apārangi.

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